A yell rings through UT’s Red and Charline McCombs Field, as the breeze sweeps through the hair of women’s softball players during practice.
Lined up in pairs to warm up arms, no team member flinches.
Finally, a response: “Yes?” Taylor Hoagland asks.
Although she shares a name with fellow Taylors — Thom and King — Hoagland, a senior, has no trouble distinguishing herself when she steps up to the plate. Hoagland smacked 18 home runs last season, bringing her career total to 44, a school record and 12 shy of the Big 12 record. Her .674 career slugging percentage stands at eighth all-time in the Big 12. Her 59 runs scored ranked second last season in the Big 12 and 12th in the league. It’s a career just about any player would be satisfied with, but Hoagland didn’t stop there come summer.
Claiming she “took a break,” Hoagland’s few months off organized softball helped her train in atypical ways: physically, by way of preparing for a triathlon and mentally, by coaching 18-year-old select players on Dallas’ Mizzuno Impulse softball team.
“I’ve been coaching for four years and each year I come back to [head coach Connie] Clark and say, ‘Oh, so this is how you feel when you say this and this is why you do those things,’” Hoagland said. “Coaching has helped make me a better communicator and notice the small details to be able to help other people.”
Clark seized Hoagland’s rounded experience to appoint her team captain this year. She also intends to adjust her role in the lineup, as Hoagland’s college outfield experience followed a high school career as an infielder.
“You’ll see Taylor playing a lot of third base this year so that’s a different look for us,” Clark said. “She’s our emotional leader and plays with a lot of passion. We have a lot of young ones and a philosophy. We want them ready in two positions. We are putting the puzzle pieces together.”
Clark looks to seniors like Hoagland to set the tone for the team’s younger players, believing the upperclassmen have “sold” the newcomers on their philosophy to “go out, play hard and leave it all on the field.” Hoagland works to set that tone, fueling the fire with the sting of last year’s loss to Oregon in regionals. Yet she sees the efforts as twofold.
“As seniors, we’re all hungry and it’s our last go-around — we really want to make it to the World Series,” Hoagland said. “We’ve been working all fall and we are a young team but the young ones are ready to go. They’re really mature for a freshman class, they’ve picked up what we do really fast and they’re just as eager to learn as we are to teach.”
Although Hoagland said she pays little attention to preseason polls, she feels the team has much to give. Touting freshmen Holly Kern and Erin Shireman as strong hitters, she also mentioned Stephanie Ceo’s speed advantage.
“We have speed, we have depth, small ball, long ball, power hitters, versatility hitters,” Hoagland said. “Everyone can do a lot of different things so you never know.”
As the season approaches, Hoagland looks forward to twelve Top 25 opponents, especially OU, with a new approach.
“I changed my hitting style a little bit so hopefully it will come around,” Hoagland said. “Seeing the ball better, loading different — no big physical changes but a whole different mental outlook. I was ready to play another game as soon as the last one ended, so I’m ready to get another start.”